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Bishop Nickless offers prayer message for immigrants, meatpacking workers during pandemic

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R. Walker Nickless

On Friday, the Diocese of Sioux City released a video address by Bishop R. Walker Nickless offering prayers for food workers and immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

SIOUX CITY -- The Diocese of Sioux City on Friday released a video-recorded address with Bishop R. Walker Nickless encouraging the community to keep front-line workers and immigrants in their prayers during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

The significant rise in the number of cases in Woodbury and Dakota counties are believed to be tied, at least partly, to outbreaks at meat processing plants in the area. Immigrants represent a significant portion of the food-production workforce. 

"The numbers of those infected with the coronavirus and those who are dying continues to rise, and we need to remember to pray for the victims and their families," the Bishop said in his three-and-a-half-minute video address. 

His message was translated into Spanish by Father David Esquiliano of the Cathedral of the Epiphany and into Vietnamese by seminarian Peter Pham. 

"I'd also like to ask you in a special way to pray for some of the diverse community that we have here in the Diocese of Sioux City. Our immigrants and diverse population from other places around the world, makes a huge difference in what our state can do. They too are suffering, the meat processing persons, the people that work in medical assistance, the people who work in our military and first responders. They're suffering too, and sometimes we forget that," Nickless added.

"And realize that, no matter what our legal status, we need to treat one another with dignity and respect. Some of our immigrant families have lost their job as well, and they have little food for their families." 

In a media conference call Thursday organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, meatpacking workers in the U.S. described the struggles they've had navigating the virus. 

Achut Deng, who has worked at the Smithfield pork plant in Sioux Falls for six years, said she is one of hundreds of workers at the plant who tested positive for the virus before it closed down this month.

“It was very devastating, it was very hard for me to deal with, because I’m at home with three little ones. One of them got infected, of course got it from me. It was a hard thing to deal with. I was scared, didn’t know what to do at that point,” she said.

Deng expressed sadness at those who have blamed refugees or immigrant workers for the spread of the virus. She noted that she contracted the virus at the Smithfield plant, rather than the other way around.

“That had nothing to do with being immigrants. Where did I get it?” she said.

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